Road surface marking

Road surface marking

Road surface marking is any kind of device or material that is used on a road surface in order to convey official information.

Road surface markings are used on paved roadways to provide guidance and information to drivers and pedestrians. Uniformity of the markings is an important factor in minimizing confusion and uncertainty about their meaning. Countries and areas categorize road surface markings in different ways.

Road surface markings are either mechanical, non-mechanical, or temporary. They can be used to delineate traffic lanes, inform motorists and pedestrians or serve as noise generators when run across a road, or attempt to wake a sleeping driver when installed in the shoulders of a road.

There is continuous effort to improve the road marking system, and technological breakthroughs include adding reflectivity, increasing longevity and lowering installation costs.


In the United States, painted white center lines were developed by Edward N. Hines, the chairman of the Wayne County, Michigan, Board of Roads. They were first used on roads in Michigan around 1911. [cite web |url=,1607,7-151-9620_11154_41535-126420--,00.html |title= Edward N. Hines (1870-1938) |accessdate=2007-09-03 |format= |work= ]

White center lines were used until 1971. Yellow have been used since [cite web |url= |title= Evolution of the MUTCD: The MUTCD Since World War II |accessdate=2008-04-03 |format= |work= ] .

In England, the idea of painting a centre white line was first experimented in 1921 in Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham. Following complaints by residents over reckless driving and several collisions, the Sutton Coldfield Corporation decided to paint the line on Maney Corner in the area of Maney. [cite book |last=Jones |first=Douglas V. |authorlink= |coauthors= |title="The Royal Town of Sutton Coldfield - A Commemorative History" |year=1994 |publisher=Westwood Press |location= |isbn= 0-9502636-7-2 ]

In 1971, a correspondent for the Sutton Coldfield News wrote an article in the newspaper recalling the event.

Mechanical markers

Mechanical devices may be raised or recessed into the road surface, and either reflective or non-reflective. Most are permanent; some are movable.

Botts' dots (low rounded white dots), named for the California Caltrans engineer, Elbert Botts who invented the epoxy that keeps them glued down, are one type of a mechanical non-reflective raised marker. Generally they are used to mark the edges of traffic lanes, frequently in conjunction with raised reflective markers.Fact|date=July 2008

Botts' dots are also used across a travel lane to draw the drivers attention to the road. They are frequently used in this way to alert drivers to toll booths, school zones or other significant reduction of speed limit. They are normally only used in warm climates since snow plows usually remove them along with the snow.

Similar to Bott's dots, "rumble strips" are commonly used for the same purpose. A rumble strip is a simple trough (typically 1 cm deep and 10 cm wide) that is ground out of the asphalt or concrete in a perpendicular line across a roadway or shoulder. Usually closely grouped together, five or 10 of these troughs create a loud vibration when driven over that will alert a driver to various upcoming hazards. This type of rumble strip may warn a driver approaching a stop sign in a rural area. Another form of the rumble strip is continuously placed on the shoulder of a highway to wake drivers who may fall asleep. The rumble strips on the shoulder of the road can wake the weary driver before they drive into the ditch.

Reflective markers are used as travel lane dividers, to mark the central reservation (median) or to mark exit slip-roads. Incorporating a raised retro-reflective element, they are typically more visible at night and in inclement weather than standard road marking lines. The color of markers varies depending on the country of use. Reflective markers are also referred to as Raised Pavement Markers, Road Studs, and sometimes (generically) in the UK & Ireland as cat's eye, although this name refers to one particular brand of product.Fact|date=July 2008

These markers can be used for other purposes such as marking the locations of fire hydrants (blue) or at gates of gated communities to indicate that emergency service vehicles have a code or device that allows them to open the gate. In the United Kingdom and elsewhere, raised markers are used to mark crosswalks (crossings) to assist the blind in crossing streets.

In colder climates, reflective markers may be installed below ground using an elongated narrow triangle, cut into the road surface that allows the device to be installed below the road surface. Newer technology allows these to be placed above ground with snowploughable rails that attempt to protect the reflective components from the snowplough blade.

Non-mechanical markers


Paint, sometimes with additives like reflective glass beads, is generally used to mark travel lanes. It is also used to mark spaces in parking lots or special purpose spaces for handicap parking, loading zones, or time restricted parking areas. Colors for these applications vary by locality. Paint is a low-cost marking and has been in widespread use since approximately the early 1950s.

Paint is usually applied right after the road has been paved. The road is marked commonly by a truck called a "Striper." These trucks contain hundreds of gallons of paint stored in huge drums which sit on the bed. The markings are controlled manually or automatically by the controller who sits on the bed. Paint is run through a series of hoses under air pressure and applied to the roadway surface. After application, the paint dries fairly quickly.Fact|date=July 2008

Painted symbols, such as turn-lane arrows or HOV lane markers, are applied manually using templates.


One of the most common types of road marking based on its balance between cost and performance longevity, thermoplastic binder systems are generally based on one of three core chemistries – Hydrocarbons, Rosin Esters or Maleic Modified Rosin Esters (MMRE). Thermoplastic coatings are generally homogeneous dry mixes of binder resins, plasticizers, glass beads (or other optics), pigments and fillers. Their usage has increased over paints mainly due to the performance benefits of increased durability, retro-reflectivity and a lack of VOC solvents.

Thermoplastic markings are applied using specially designed vehicles. The thermoplastic mix is heated the trucks to about 200°C before being fed to the application apparatus. This is often a screed box or ribbon gun. Immediately after the thermoplastic has been applied, glass beads are laid onto the hot material so that they embed before the plastic hardens. These beads provide initial retro-reflection. As the marking wears during use and the initial beads are lost, the beads mixed with the binder are uncovered, providing long term reflectivity. Most thermoplastic is produced in white and yellow colors, but other colors such as red can also be produced.Fact|date=July 2008


Brussels, Belgium] Plastics were introduced in the late 1960s and early 1970s.Fact|date=May 2007 Commonly referred to as "tape" or "cold plastic," this product is heavy-grade material with reflective beads embedded in the plastic. It is commonly used to mark crosswalks, stop bars and traffic guidances such as turn lanes, HOV lanes, train crossings, pedestrian crossings, taxi lanes, bus lanes, and bike lanes. There are three ways to apply tape:

*Overlay - The application being laid over the surface of the pavement. Using industrial-grade rubber cement, once the tape is combined with the pavement, it should last three years. Major obstacles to estimated life are snow-plows, salt, and mis-application.
*Inlay - The tape physically becomes part of the asphalt. Using the heat generated in the paving process, road workers lay special tape on the asphalt in the hardening process, and rollers compress the two together.
*Hot Tape - This is the oldest method and is widely disappearing. During the process, the road worker lays out pre-manufactured shapes in the design required. Once in place, a torch is used to melt the plastic on the surface of the road. This is a slower process and more prone to a dull, burnt color of the finished product.


Epoxy has been in use since the late 1970s and has gained popularity over the 1990s as the technology has become more affordable and reliable. This material competes directly with plastic with respect to usage and cost.Fact|date=May 2007

Temporary markers

Pylons are sometimes used to separate HOV lanes from regular traffic lanes. They are also used in areas where lanes are used at different times for travel in both directions. These pylons have shafts that drop into holes in the road surface. A good example of this type of use is the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

Country specific information

United States

In the U.S., the type, placement, and graphic standards of traffic signs and road surfaces are legally regulated — the Federal Highway Administration's "Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices" is the standard, although each state produces their own manual based upon the Federal manual. [Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, 2003 Edition Rev. 2]

Generally white lane markings indicate a separation between lanes traveling in the same direction while yellow markings indicate opposing traffic on the other side of the line. In some areas, such as Colorado, black material is applied on the surface before a shorter white line is painted. This improves the contrast of the marking against "white" concrete.

In California, Botts' dots are commonly used to mark lanes on most freeways. A large number of California cities also use Botts' dots on some (or all) major arterials. The notable exception is the City of Los Angeles, which cannot afford to maintain any raised lane markers due to its fiscal problems, and uses only paint.fact|date=August 2008

In California and Nevada, the reflectors "are" usually the lines, and no paint is used. Exceptions include: freeways built from white concrete where painted stripes are added to make the lanes more visible through sun glare, freeways built so wide that the risk of drifting is minimal (e.g., Interstate 5 in the Central Valley), and freeways in areas where it snows in the winter (since the snowplows would scrape off the Botts' Dots).

In general, single broken lines mean passing is allowed, single solid lines mean pass only to avoid a hazard, and double solid lines mean it is prohibited, as it often is in tunnels. On two-lane roads, a single broken centerline means that passing is allowed in either direction, a double solid centerline means passing is prohibited in both directions, and the combination of a solid line with a broken line means that passing is allowed only from the side with the broken line and prohibited from the side with the solid line.

Crosswalks are indicated at a minimum by a pair of white lines. On major boulevards, crosswalks are further highlighted by zebra stripes, which are large white rectangles in the crosswalk perpendicular to traffic.

Western Europe

Several Western European countries reserve white for routine lane markings of any kind, except bus stops and similar things. However, for example Austria and Norway have yellow markings separating traffic directions. Many countries use yellow, orange or red to indicate when lanes are being shifted temporarily to make room for construction projects.

In the Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, and the UK, so-called "naked roads" have been trialled, whereby all visible road markings, kerbs, traffic lights, and signs are removed. When this was tested in Seend, a village in the UK county of Wiltshire, the county council reported that accidents fell by a third, with motorists' speed falling by an average of 5%. It has been suggested that naked roads force drivers to make eye contact with other road users, and that it is this nonverbal communication that is responsible for the reduction of accidents. [ [ "Can "naked roads" kill speed?"] , BBC News Online. Accessed May 19, 2007.] Other have suggested that road markings, especially with middle marker, make the road look like a main road, triggering faster and more relaxed driving, while no marking makes the road look like a lower quality road.

United Kingdom

In the U.K., a broken white line in the direction of travel, where the gaps are longer than the painted lines, indicates the centre of the road and that an overtaking manoeuvre may be performed when safe to do so, whilst a double solid white line indicates that overtaking is not permitted. A solid white line with a broken white line parallel to it indicates that overtaking is allowed for traffic in one direction (the side closest to the broken line) and not the other. Solid white lines are also used to mark the outer edges of a road. A broken white line in which the gaps are shorter than the painted lines indicates an upcoming hazard and a broken line in which the gaps are much longer than the painted lines indicates the border of two lanes of traffic traveling in the same direction.

A double yellow line (commonly known as just a "Double Yellow") next to the kerb means that no parking is allowed at any time, whilst a single yellow line is used in conjunction with signs to denote that parking is restricted at certain times. Double and single red lines mean that stopping is not allowed at any time or between certain times respectively.

On many roads in the UK, reflective devices known as cat's eyes are placed in the road. These devices reflect the light from a car's headlights back towards the driver in order to highlight features of the road in poor visibility or at night. The colour of cat's eyes differs according to their location. Those defining the division between lanes are white, red cat's eyes are placed along the hard shoulder of a motorway or sometimes dual carriageways and orange cat's eyes are placed along the edge of the central reservation (median). Green cat's eyes denote joining or leaving slip roads at junctions, alternate red and green indicate intersections of motorways and blue cat's eyes are used for police slip roads.

Zig-zag lines are painted on the street either side of a pedestrian crossing. Motorists should not overtake, wait or park in the vicinity [] .


In Australia, white lines are generally used both to separate traffic flowing in the same direction and traffic flowing in opposite directions. Yellow lines are used to designate tram fairways, with dashed yellow lines indicating that vehicles may drive on the tram tracks but should not delay trams, and solid yellow lines indicating that vehicles may not drive on the tracks. If a tram turns through an intersection, a yellow line is used to show how far the tram hangs out to remind other drivers not to overtake it on the inside.

New Zealand

Although New Zealand follows the convention of a solid yellow line to indicate no passing on roads with two-way traffic, it uses long dashed white lines to indicate when passing against opposing traffic is allowed on two-lane roads "and" shorter ones to separate lanes going in the same direction.

See also

*Cat's eye
*Federal Highway Administration
*Raised pavement marker


External links

* [ U.S. Federal Highway Administration - Learn About Pavement Markings]

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